Jake Meaney

Come for the Brash Young Ad Exec getting his come-uppance from Mysterious Sinister Stranger, but stay for the extras.


Director: Mike Barker
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Maria Bello, Gerard Butler
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-12-25

Stop me if you think you've seen this one before:

Brash Young Ad Exec, rising star in the company. Beautiful wife, beautiful daughter, beautiful house, beautiful life. Everything is just as perfect as perfect can be. Except, maybe he's been a bit too brash, a bit too ruthless and careless. Maybe on his way up he cut a few shady deals, or screwed over the wrong person. And maybe this is all about to catch up to him…

Enter Mysterious Sinister Stranger with obvious ax to grind. He's come to shatter this bucolic middle class dream life, to bring everything crashing down in a storm of vengeance. Brash Young Ad Exec has obviously wronged Mysterious Sinister Stranger in some grievous way, and the latter will find no satisfaction until his carefully laid plans for revenge are played out to their harrowing end. Along the way, souls will be laid bare, tables will be turned, hidden sins will be dragged into the light, and the ends of desperation will be reached. And it will end badly for someone, you can bet on it.

So, yes, of course you've seen Shattered (aka Butterfly on a Wheel) before, because… well, because you've seen movies. This one courses along the well grooved paths of the countless kidnapping/revenge fueled movies that have come before it and will come after it. Its characters are cut from familiar stock, the dialogue is overheated and overwrought at precisely the right moments, and the "unpredictable" twists come exactly when you expect them. It’s almost a flawless textbook example of genre exercise, with little, aside from its excellent cast, to distinguish it from its predecessors.

And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Revenge films, even when they fly on autopilot, work for a reason: they are reliable, predictable, and basic. They are the mom's mac and cheese of movies. Comfortable and comforting, they set reasonable expectations upon which they almost always deliver, and leave no residue of disappointment, of having thoroughly wasted two hours of your life. Shattered is a quick watch, tightly efficient, and mostly entertaining. It is not a particularly good movie, but it is good, for what it is.

And if it stands out at all, it's because of the casting of Pierce Brosnan as our ruthless villain, a hard, grizzled man driven to extremes to right a wrong. I like that Brosnan, whom I have always thought unfairly underrated, has been playing against type since being ousted as James Bond. His turn here isn't quite as remarkable or fun as his down and out hitman in The Matador, but it is a hoot to watch him half-ham it up as the type of baddie he had been in the habit of taking down.

In fact, while watching Shattered, I found myself wondering if, in a totally pomo gonzo stunt-casting move, Brosnan wouldn't in fact make a great Bond villain himself, squaring off against Daniel Craig. Or maybe not -- Brosnan has the sort magnetic charisma that makes it almost impossible to root against him. He's suave and slick, sure, but always eminently likeable. Even at his most diabolical here in Shattered, I was still pulling for him to get Brash Young Ad Exec good, and to exact the full measure of his revenge.

Shattered arrives on DVD with a generic array of extras: behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes, and a puff piece by cast members about how awesome Pierce Brosnan is to work with. In fact, Shattered might as well be a straight to DVD release. Although it received a limited run in a few scattered locations, it was actually broadcast on TNT for its official run, and then went straight to home release. Which, I guess, makes it a marginally better film if we assess it as a made for TV movie rather than a theatrical film, though I guess that wasn't the intention. No matter…

Anyway, I fired up the commentary track with director Mike Barker and writer William Morrissey, expecting something equally generic to the film itself, but then something funny happened. Barker and Morrissey, brimming with good cheer and enthusiasm, came out of the gate laying into both their film and themselves. I wouldn't call it mocking or overly snarky -- they both obviously like the film and are proud of it -- but they know how to have fun, and know that they aren't exactly remaking Citizen Kane. It's a Statler and Waldrof style of heckling maybe, providing more a sort of Mystery Science Theater style running commentary than the usual boring on set anecdotes and what not.

I loved it. It was easily one of the most entertaining and enjoyable commentary tracks I've ever sat through, as well as one of the more informative ultimately. One moment they are goofing on the title of the film by wondering why Tom Berenger was cut from the final film (a reference to the excellent 1991 neo-noir of the same name. As indicated earlier, Shattered was originally titled the Butterfly on the Wheel, a reference to an Alexander Pope poem, before undergoing a rather unfortunate title change for American release). One minute Barker and Morrissey are asking one another whether there are awards given for best commentary, and the next they're throwing around great little stories about the tactics of shooting complex shots on city streets with minimal budgets and no permits. And then they are back to extolling the various allures of Maria Bello for 10-minute stretches, sounding more like two smitten schoolboys than professional filmmakers.

I don't know that I've ever recommended a DVD based strictly on the commentary, but if I was going to, Shattered would be at the top of the pile. While not exactly the award winning performance they hope, the filmmakers' running dialogue is at least equal to the film on its own, if not better. But what does it say about a film when its own commentary is more intriguing and entertaining than the film itself?


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